I can’t be sure of the grade, but it was back when cubbies were in vogue. Our names were laminated on primary colored construction paper, taped to a space for our books. Girls wore ribbons in their hair and pulled their socks up over their shins. I was still at an age where my mother had us fit for good shoes and each year bought us a new dress coat. Something wool. And as young as that I remember disliking Valentine’s day. Which says a lot, actually, considering my… gravitation toward food. Valentine’s Day has to come in as a close second to Halloween in terms of candy, unless you celebrate Easter, in which case, it slips into third. Those candy hearts that all taste like chalk, the boxes of chocolate laid out like tiny jewels, self-contained, hidden sometimes behind a leaf of brown paper. It sounds exquisite, but it wasn’t. It was a holiday of rejects.
While I enjoyed the arts & crafts of it, the white paper doilies glued to red and pink hearts we’d cut by folding our paper in half, I still had a pit in my stomach when I looked at my cubby. So I tried not to look. I was casual about it. No big deal. What a silly holiday. Mostly, I wanted what everyone else wanted: to be liked, but more especially, to be loved.
My father brought us home roses, for his favorite girls he’d tell us. We’d wisely remind him, "we’re your only girls." Then we’d twirl. It was sweet actually. But it never felt sweet at school. There was too much expectation, and it all came down to one four letter word: FROM.
Our teachers had us make a valentine for every single person in the class, so no one would feel left out. Which is mighty fine thinking. But then kids wised up and began to bring in special valentines for their favorite friends and crushes, so it got to the point where the "mandatory" valentines didn’t count. Even if they were cupcakes. Okay, the cupcakes counted a little.
"Look how many valentines you have!" My mother would cheer as I dumped my knapsack on the kitchen floor.
"They don’t count." They were hads.
I’m sure there were others in there, from Meryl Glass. Something from a best friend. But what I didn’t like about Valentine’s day was that it didn’t seem to make you feel special, no matter how many nice things you did for other people. It just had a way of emphasizing what I didn’t have. It’s one of those comparison holidays, where you’re left to assess how liked, how wanted, how loved you really are. When I was little it came down to amassing construction paper hearts even if they were signed FROM instead of LOVE. Even if some were written…
In college it meant walking through the lobby of my dorm and seeing roses with the security desk, wondering maybe if they were meant for me. It’s that one holiday where when you’re unattached you can’t help feeling unloved. And when you’re attached you just wonder what your love will do to surprise you and if you’re doing enough to make the other person feel included, special… enough. It’s a holiday of comparisons and courses. It’s a love competition where a little part of you wishes for more and feels dissatisfied. It’s the chinese food of holidays.